Etymology of the Name Ireland, Éire, Erin

In Gaelic myth, Ériu, Banbha and Fódla were three goddesses who greeted the Milesians upon their arrival in Ireland, and who granted them custody of the island.

Ériu is generally believed to have been the matron goddess of Ireland, a goddess of sovereignty, or simply a goddess of the land. The origin of Ériu has been traced to the Proto-Celtic (800 B.C.) reconstruction.

Hibernia (ancient name and Latin variant): apparently assimilated to Latin hibernus ("wintry").

Ireland is known as Eirinn in Scottish Gaelic, from a grammatical case of Éire. In the fellow Celtic languages: in Welsh it is Iwerddon; in Cornish it is Ywerdhon or Worthen; and in Breton it is Iwerzhon.

In Gaelic bardic tradition Ireland is also known by the poetical names of Banbha (meaning "piglet") and Fódhla. The Proto-Indo-European reconstruction of the Irish language suggests a meaning of "abundant land".

It is highly likely that explorers borrowed and modified this term. During his exploration of northwest Europe (circa 320 B.C.), Pytheas of Massilia (350 B.C. - 285 B.C.) called the island Ierne. In his book Geographia (circa A.D. 150), Claudius Ptolemaeus (A.D. 90 - A.D. 168) called the island Iouernia. Based on these historical accounts, the Roman Empire called the island Hibernia.

While Éire is simply the name for the island of Ireland in the Irish language, and sometimes used in English, Erin is a common poetic name for Ireland, as in "Erin go bragh." The distinction between the two is one of the difference between cases of nouns in Irish.

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Tags: Celtic, Gaeilge, History of Ireland, Irish Language, Mythology

Comment by Richard Strathern on February 4, 2015 at 5:50pm

Very interesting. My surname Strathern a well know Scottish name has been argued in the family for several years as to origin of the surname.  Bede in his famous History of the Church in England point out that Strathern is Strait of Erin (Strath Ern) Interesting several families in Northern Ireland have Strathern Surname and we have tried to trace it back for the Scot connection. So far we have failed. We know the Scotland family surname appears centered in Ayr/Ayrshire. My brother John and his family visited Derry/Bellaghy this summer and was able to meet 38 cousins from this Irish family branch.

Comment by Dee Notaro on February 6, 2015 at 4:52am

From Wikipedia and surname database: 

Strathearn or Strath Earn (Scottish Gaelic: Srath Èireann) (/stræθˈɜrn/; from Scottish Gaelic) is the strath of the River Earn, in Scotland. It extends from Loch Earn in Perth and Kinross to the River Tay.

"Strathearn" or "Strathern" is also a surname in the United States and Northern Ireland, predominantly in the Bellaghy area of County Londonderry.

Royal dukedoms of Cumberland and Strathearn, of Kent and Strathearn and of Connaught and Strathearn have been awarded to members of the British Royal Family. Prince William was created Earl of Strathearn, as a subsidiary title to Duke of Cambridge, on 29 April 2011, the day of his wedding to Catherine Middleton. 

Last name: Strathearn

This is an ancient Scottish surname, of almost certainly pre 7th century Gaelic origins. There have been claims that because some early nameholders were recorded as 'de Strathearn' that the origin is Norman-French. If so, it remains unproven, although it is certainly true that in the two hundred years after the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, the Kingdom of Scotland for reasons of both self interest and protection, did adopt many French customs. It is also true that they went further and granted lands to members of William the Conqueror's successful army, presumably as some sort of pay-off. However in our opinion although the original nameholders may be Norman, 'Strathearn' as a surname is Gaelic-locational, and based upon research into Olde English and Gaelic languages, the derivation is from the elements 'straet', meaning in this context an area, and 'earn', the eagle - the place of the eagle. Whether 'the eagle' refers to a bird, or whether it describes a person with the attributes of an eagle, is open to conjecture. The early recordings give such examples as Patrick de Strathern, a charter witness in the barony of Drumelzier in 1331, whilst Walter Stratherne was an associate of the earl of Murref in 1390. Later recordings are those of Thomas Strathern, heir to the lands of Tulibaglis in 1462, and Mungo Strathern, a court witness in 1538. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Maucolum de Strathearn, which was dated 1296, paid hommage to the Scottish government, during the reign of known as 'The Interregnum', which reigned from 1296 to 1306. 

Comment by Richard Strathern on February 7, 2015 at 4:54pm

Thank you Dee for the information. My great grandfather based on the 1901 Census states he was born in Ireland. We guess his birth at 1826 based on his joining the British European Army (Bengal Fusiliers) in 1848. He return to Ireland in 1859 after the Indian Mutiny at Delhi India. On his discharge papers he expressed his intention of returning to the Marherafelf, Londonderry area where he was born was born. His farm at Killyberry Lane, Bellaghy area is still in the family. My brother from Ohio visited his cousins this September and was able to meet 38 relatives. I have 111 ydna markers which I am told is very rare ydna. It seems to agree with your feedback (CTS 4528. William C Strathern is my Brick Wall as being  b. 1826). My great Aunt told us that William's parent were William Strathern and  Mary O'Toole. We have not found their records. The Strathern's in Ireland seem to have a strong connection to RC Church in Ireland. This does not seem to be the case in Scotland. So my interest is finding the connection between two families if their is on. The Scotland Stratherns seems by dna and surname to be clustered around Ayrshire. So it is an interesting mystery and challenge.

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